Thursday, April 06, 2006

More on Iran

At the moment, I haven't much to add on Iran. I do notice some news reports are pushing that imminent threat line again; I saw one headline claim that Iran might have nuclear weapons by 2007. What I've been reading in the last year strongly suggests that's baloney. The press needs to remind people that we heard this kind of nonsense 24/7 during the prelude to war in Iraq. After four years of lies, are the American people still susceptible to fear-mongering? We'll see.

William M. Arkin of The Washington Post discusses some media aspects of the Iranian situation:
Yesterday, I asked whether the Iranian "threat" hadn't reached a tipping point, where a potential threat to the West and oil is declared an imminent threat, and whether recent stories about Iranian military capabilities and support for terrorism weren't part of the unfortunate drumbeat for war.
Later in his post, Arkin has this to say in a letter to Dana Priest:
As I've written on these pages, I don't think an attack upon Iran is imminent. Yet, if the Bush administration concludes that it has to strike Iran to protect America -- its definition, its closed door deliberation -- I believe it will do so regardless of the risks. No, not regardless of, despite those risks. It will be another example of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice concluding that a cloud is better than a mushroom cloud -- and exactly the groupthink that led us into Iraq.
Arkin raises some interesting issues worthy of a debate.

Here's an article by Marc Perelman about the increased chatter concerning military action against Iran:
Key players in the Bush administration think a military confrontation with Iran is unavoidable, leading to stepped up military planning for such a prospect, according to several experts and recently departed senior government officials.

Some of these observers stressed that military strikes against Iran are not imminent and speculated that the escalated war chatter could be a deliberate ploy to ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Still, they made clear, the tone in Washington has changed drastically.

"In recent months I have grown increasingly concerned that the administration has been giving thought to a heavy dose of air strikes against Iran's nuclear sector without giving enough weight to the possible ramifications of such action," said Wayne White, a former deputy director at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. White, who worked in the bureau's Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia, left government in early 2005 and is now an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute.

And finally, The San Francisco Chronicle, has an article on recent moves at the UN by John Bolton that remind us diplomacy may still on the table:
The Bush administration is considering diplomatic and economic options to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons if diplomacy at the United Nations fails, and it envisions sanctions if Tehran won't back down, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said Thursday.

"It would be, I think, simply prudent to be looking at other options," Bolton said at a breakfast meeting of the State Department Correspondents Association.

He said the United States could suspend import allowances for Iranian rugs and pistachios, which were relaxed years ago in hopes of stimulating small business in Iran, and consider a crackdown on alleged financial crimes similar to U.S. pursuit of alleged fraud by North Korea. There are steps other governments could take as well, Bolton said, including financial and travel restrictions.

Now who knows how serious John Bolton is about nonmilitary options if Iran continues with its nuclear program. American trade sanctions on Iranian rugs and pistachios would be a face-saving option and yet it doesn't sound to me like anything close to a serious proposal. But it does sound like a statement that says all options are on the table, including real diplomatic solutions.

Later, in the San Francisco Chronicle article, Bolton talks about a more serious diplomatic option:
"The Iranian government ... can get out of the trap they've put themselves in by reversing the strategic decision to seek nuclear weapons, and the example that's out there of what lies in store for them is the case of Libya," Bolton said.

He said Libya three years ago made a "hardhearted, national interest calculation" that it would gain more by forswearing further nuclear weapons development and thereby "opened the possibility of substantially different relations with the United States and other countries."

One element possibly missing from the manueverings around Iran is the possibility that Russia and China may not be taking Bush's concerns about Iran seriously enough. During the Cold War, the US had a way of dealing with both Russia and China that involved high stakes; one could argue that the US bluffed once or twice. Diplomatic solutions are always preferable to rolling the dice and China and Russia need to help more with an Iranian solution, even if it's some face-saving moves for the US and Iran.

Right wingers are already beginning to bang the war drums but that's just noise. Even certain noises from the White House, I suspect, are just preliminary moves until a decision is made. If Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld give their approval to a real p.r. campaign concerning Iran, it won't be a bluff. Then again, a real p.r. campaign may not start until after a possible air strike.

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